How Writers Can Score Press Trips By Roy A. Barnes

For writers, the challenge of taking trips and hoping to recoup the cost of their expenses with sales of their articles is very daunting indeed. Writers can save much if not all of their expenses (and thus, net more from their writing while getting new ideas) when they participate in group or individual press trips (also called FAM {for Familiarization} Trips), where the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) of a city or region (or the Public Relations firm who handles their account) pays some or all of the writer’s trip expenses, like air, hotel, attraction fees, and meals, or gets the local venues to “comp (make it complimentary)” the charges. These organizations do this to encourage writers to write about the sights and activities they are proud of and want the world to know about via the travel articles they hope to see published.

First and foremost, press trips aren’t no-strings-attached ventures. Writers who desire to attend these need to realize a lot of competition for these event slots exist, as well as the expectation that article(s) based on these trips will be published.

Here are some tips on scoring a press trip:

Have Published Clippings

Many CVB/PR firms won’t even consider a writer unless he or she has some published travel clippings, which are weblinks or hard copies of your travel articles. At times, this isn’t even enough as the published clippings or potential editorial interest has to be from certain print magazines that focus on specific areas of travel or newspapers with a circulation of at least 100,000 or more. Other CVB/PR firms will consider websites that focus on travel, but if possible, it’s best to ask the editor for the monthly/yearly unique visits the website gets. This way, if the numbers/demographics are impressive, you might draw interest from the CVB/PR firm. Then you can ask for a letter of assignment from the internet publication editor, which will be discussed more in depth later.

For those writers who have only non-travel-themed clippings, don’t fret. Think of the publications you’ve been published in. Many of them publish travel-themed articles based on their covered subject matter. Some or all the venues or personalities covered in a press trip could make for a feature article(s) that inspires reader visits. It never hurts to ask editors you’ve built up a good relationship with if they’d consider a travel tie-in article. Asking doesn’t cost anything.

Subscribe To Online Travel Newsletters and Cold Call

Writers who want to attend press trips need to find out where they are happening. Three online sites regularly announce press trips for both groups and individuals. It’s free to subscribe to them. (You need to apply first: details at their site)

As for cold calling, the first two all major expense paid press trips I was able to go on came about because I cold called via email two CVB’s for cities I was interested in visiting. It’s easy to find the CVB of a certain region in the United States just by googling the name of the geographical area and adding “cvb” after it. When I cold call, I inform them I am interested in visiting their area, and show the CVB/PR firm some of my online clippings as a travel writer (and include readership statistics if possible). Furthermore, I ask them if they host press trips and what expenses are covered, then go from there. Don’t expect to score a press trip with every cold call. You may not get any interest or the CVB/PR firm may only offer to pay a fraction of the expenses, etc. If you’re comfortable with footing some of the major expenses, then it’s more likely you’ll be able to secure a press trip. And remember, your writing-related expenses incurred on the press trip could be eligible for tax purposes, though it’s best to check with the IRS and/or your accountant for specifics.

If the CVB/PR firm doesn’t have any group or individual press trips planned, then study the area’s literature (ask them to send you a media kit, which is done for free) or website and propose your own ideas. Many of the online sites for a city or region have a “Media” page, where you can read press releases, get story ideas, and learn about any upcoming press trips.

Make The Proposal With A Letter of Assignment

A letter of assignment (also called a letter of interest) is a letter from the editor of a publication that states the editor is willing to consider an article(s) about the subject matter of the press trip. It basically contains the contact information of the publication’s editor, and he greets the CVB/PR official, then states that you have been a contributor to the publication and that he approves of you going on this trip to write up the things outlined. It might even state what expenses are to be covered.

Speaking of expenses, many publications will not publish articles that come as a result of sponsored travel (that is, some or all your expenses on the trip were covered). Make sure you know the publication’s policy in advance. You may even be able to work with the CVB/PR officials for “press rates” if you have to foot the bill yourself.

What will CVB’s approve of in publications? It’s best to propose your letter of assignment to the CVB/PR official from publication(s) that match the venues they want to promote via your writing. For instance, it wouldn’t be wise to propose asking for a letter of assignment from the editor of an outdoors publication that focuses on skiing, hiking, and rafting when the press trip you’re interested in features a fine dining tour of the Boston area.

Making A Proposal Without A Letter of Assignment

If you can’t get a letter of assignment from the editor you’ve had publishing success with for one reason or another (as some editors don’t give them out), it’s not necessarily a lost cause. Don’t misrepresent yourself, but use your past publishing successes to let the CVB or PR official know that you can get articles published and that you’ll do your best to submit to editors. Now, this may lessen your chances of landing the press trip, since a letter of assignment/interest carries a higher probability of getting published because the editor knows what you’re going to write about and you’ve had past success with the publication.

If Accepted, Do Your Absolute Best To Attend

I’ve been on a number of press trips where I hear that some journalists have backed out of coming at the last minute. Sure, illness/injury or family emergencies come up, but I wonder how many writers use this as an excuse to not show up? Remember, the CVB/PR firm has spent a lot of time and especially money (if they paid your airfare to come) in arranging your trip. The least writers can do is make sure they show up, sans something extreme. If the writers had to pay for all the major transport, airfare, meal, and attraction expenses, do you think they’d decide not to show up?

A number of CVB/PR firms are now making writers sign/acknowledge agreements stating if they don’t show up, they’ll be responsible for paying the airfare. I have no problem with this because it does make the writer accountable. But there is one thing a writer should never agree to. In all the press trips I’ve taken (more than 15 as of this writing), I’ve never been asked to sign an agreement guaranteeing publication, nor would I ever sign such an agreement which I’ve heard does come up in rare instances.

The reason is this: It’s important to understand that letter of assignment itself doesn’t guarantee publication. What it does is signify that you’ve had works published, that the editor likes your past work, and has faith that your press trip will be able to produce at least one article for the publication as long as the writer’s work falls within the editorial guidelines. But sometimes things happen, like the publication ceases or goes on hiatus, the editorial staff changes, and the new editor may not be interested in publishing articles that were commissioned from the previous editor. Your article(s), even with rewrites, might not impress the editor enough to justify publishing it. CVB’s do know that these things can happen, but for the most part, the letter of assignment is like a stronger assurance that they’ll see an article(s) in publications that cater to their desired audience.

Get To Work On Those Articles During Press Trip Down Times

When I’m gone from home for several days, it throws off my normal routines. So, I make sure I use my press trip down time at the hotel to catch up on my emails, draft and write the articles from the current press trip I’m on. I strive to be up a few hours before the press trip day starts to get my exercise and some writing-related work done, since I bring my laptop and picture developing equipment with me on trips. This way, I don’t feel so overwhelmed when I get home.

Don’t procrastinate. Show the CVB/PR firm that believed in you that you are reliable. The longer it takes to submit an article, the longer it could take to see it published, the longer it takes for the CVB/PR firm to see publicity from the article, and the longer it will take to potentially re-sell your work elsewhere if you are allowed to after publication.

A Warning To Schemers

Believe it or not, I’ve read via travel writers’ message boards about schemers out there who manage to sweet talk their way onto a press trip without any intention of writing or submitting articles. Not only is this morally wrong, but those who do that won’t get away with doing this very long. CVB/PR officials are a part of a big grapevine, and those people who misrepresent themselves or who don’t do their best to see that an article(s) gets published will have their names zipped around on that grapevine.

There could also be legal ramifications.

Closing Thoughts

Press trips are a wonderful opportunity for writers because travel expenses are covered in much the same way a corporate business traveler’s are for his line of work. It’s just that the corporate suit is spending time in a lot of meetings while travel writers can savor interesting and colorful foods, people, activities, and venues around the world for their job functions! But to repeat, there are really no free lunches in this world, and press trips apply in this regard, too. They are a means to gather more writing ideas and getting more travel articles published, which can put more money in your pocket. But they should only be sought after if you’re responsible enough for the task!

Roy A. Barnes writes from southeastern Wyoming. His travel-related articles have appeared at such venues like Transitions Abroad, Live Life Travel, Associated Content, Go World Travel, Northwest Prime Time, and The Traveler. He’s contributed to WritersWeekly and other writing-themed publications like The InkSpotter News, Writer 2 Writer, The Willamette Writer, The Dabbling Mum, Writng for DOLLARS, and more.